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States Conditions of Statehood Territory Population Government Artificial island

constructed by State outside its territorial waters and subsequently abandoned Whether capable
of constituting a State Whether residents a people

Territory Definition Whether territory of a State must be part of the surface of the earth
Artificial island Self-determination Definition of a people

Sea Islands Artificial island Whether capable of constituting sole territory of a State

Nationality Individuals Loss of nationality Loss of nationality of birth by voluntary
acquisition of new nationality The law of the Federal Republic of Germany


Federal Republic of Germany, Administrative Court of Cologne. 3 May 1978

SUMMARY: The facts: The plaintiff held the title of Foreign Secretary and President of the State
Council of the so-called Duchy of Sealand, an entity established on a former anti-aircraft platform erected
by the United Kingdom eight miles off its southern coast and attached by concrete pillars to the seabed. At
all relevant times, the platform was outside United Kingdom territorial waters. The platform was
abandoned after the Second World War and occupied in 1967 by a former British Army Officer who
proclaimed the establishment of the Duchy. The plaintiff brought an action for a declaration that, as one of
106 persons who had acquired the citizenship of the Duchy, he had lost his citizenship of the Federal
Republic of Germany.

Held. The action was admissible but unfounded.
International law required three essential attributes for Statehood. The State must have a territory, a
people and a government. At least two of these requirements were absent in the case of the Duchy.
Territory must consist in a natural segment of the earths surface. An artificial island, albeit connected to
the earths surface, did not satisfy this criterion. Whilst size was irrelevant, in order to constitute a people
the group of persons in question must form a cohesive vibrant community. An association whose common
purpose covered merely commercial and tax affairs was insufficient (pp. 685-8).

The following is a statement of the facts as reported in DVBl. 1978, p. 510:

On 14 November 1975 the plaintiff, a German citizen by birth, received a document issued on 26
August 1975 which granted him [*684] citizenship of the so-called Duchy of Sealand. The Duchy is a
former British anti-aircraft platform situated approximately eight nautical miles off the southern coast of
Great Britain. After the end of the Second World War the British abandoned this platform. It constitutes a
small island which is situated outside the British three-mile zone. In 1967 a British Major, R. B., occupied
the former anti-aircraft platform and proclaimed the Duchy of Sealand. This Duchy is connected to
the sea-bed by strong concrete pillars and has a surface area of approximately 1300 square metres. At
present 106 persons possess the so-called citizenship of Sealand. In 1975 R.B. issued a constitution for
the former anti-aircraft platform, designating himself as Roy of Sealand. The plaintiff holds the post of
Foreign Secretary and Chairman of the Council of State of the Duchy.
On 2 August 1976 the plaintiff made an application to the defendant for the determination of his
citizenship. After the defendant had established the date on which the plaintiff had been issued with the
so-called naturalization document by the Duchy of Sealand, the plaintiff was notified that he had not
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lost his German citizenship because the Duchy of Sealand did not constitute a State within the meaning
of international law. In this regard it had neither State territory nor a people nor a State government.
The plaintiff instituted proceedings challenging the decision on the basis that the Duchy of
Sealand was an independent State. Consequently, he argued, pursuant to Section 25 of the Nationality
and Citizenship Law (RuStAG) of 22 July 1913 (RGBl., p. 583), his German citizenship had been lost. The
island was permanently inhabited by between thirty and forty persons who were responsible for the
defence of the miniature island and the maintenance of the community. Furthermore, he contended, his
island was on the verge of being recognized as a State by Ceylon, Paraguay and Cyprus. The plaintiff
seeks a declaration that he has lost his German citizenship as a result of his acquisition of the citizenship
of the so-called Duchy of Sealand from 14 November 1975.
The Administrative Court (VG) dismisses the action brought by the plaintiff.

[The following is the text of the grounds of the judgment of the Court:]

The plaintiffs action for a declaration, instituted pursuant to Section 43 of the Administrative
Courts Order (VwGO) of 21 January 1960 (BGBl. I p. 17), is admissible.
Nevertheless the action is unfounded.
The plaintiff has not lost his German citizenship pursuant to Section 25(1) RUStAG. [*685]
According to this provision a German who is neither domiciled nor permanently resident within the
country loses his citizenship if he acquires a foreign citizenship, if the acquisition of the new citizenship is
at his own request. The plaintiff does not satisfy the conditions laid down in the provision in question.
Although, since 28 October 1975, he has been neither domiciled nor permanently resident in the Federal
Republic of Germany, nevertheless he has not lost his German citizenship since he has not acquired any
foreign citizenship.
Since the so-called Duchy of Sealand does not constitute a State within the meaning of
international law, the plaintiff did not acquire foreign nationality when he was issued with a document by
the Duchy of Sealand on 14 November 1975.
International law lays down three essential attributes for Statehood. The State must have a territory,
that territory must be inhabited by a people and that people must be subject to the authority of a
Government (cf. Gerber, Lehrbuch des Vlkerrechts, Vol. 1, 2nd edn. 1975, paragraph 14 c).
The Duchy of Sealand fails to satisfy even the first condition as it does not possess a State
territory within the meaning of international law.
The former anti-aircraft platform is not situated on any fixed point of the surface of the earth.
Rather, the miniature island has been constructed on concrete pillars. The preponderant view of legal
writers is that only a part of the surface of the earth can be regarded as State territory. Gerber
characterizes State territory as an enclosed part of the surface of the earth (Gerber, loc. cit., pp. 314-15).
Equally Strupp/Schlochhauer (Wrterbuch des Vlkerrechts, Vol. 1, 1960 p. 617) and Verdross/Simma
(Universelles Vlkerrecht, 1976, p. 526) define State territory as land territory.
The view expressed by these writers, that State territory consists of a part of the surface of the
earth or land territory, leads to the conclusion that only those parts of the surface of the earth which
have come into existence in a natural way can be recognized as constituting State territory. A man-made
artificial platform, such as the so-called Duchy of Sealand, cannot be called either a part of the earths
surface or land territory because it does not constitute a segment of the earths sphere. -
The fact that the former anti-aircraft platform is firmly connected to the sea-bed by concrete pillars
does not transform the platform into a part of the surface of the earth or land territory. On the
contrary the terms surface of the earth and land territory demonstrate that only structures which
make use of a specific piece of the earths surface can be recognized as State territory within the meaning
of international law. Furthermore both in international law and in colloquial speech the use of the term
territorium, derived from the [*686] Latin word terra which is synonymous with earth, clearly
indicates that State territory within the meaning of international law must be either mother earth or
something standing directly thereon (cf. with regard to the etymological significance of the words earth
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and land, Der Grosse Duden, Herkunftswrterbuch der deutschen Sprache; Wahrig, Wrterbuch der
deutschen Sprache, 1978).
The Court does not share the view of Professor Dr Leisner, upon which the plaintiff seeks to rely,
that the so-called Duchy of Sealand does satisfy the requirements for designation as State territory.
In his opinion Leisner quotes examples of man-made formations of State territory, such as
artificially reclaimed parts of the sea-shore which had been submerged by the sea but still retained the
status of a part of the territory. The same does not apply, however, to the so-called Duchy of Sealand. It
is certainly true that territory which was once connected to land and then submerged by the sea can
continue to be regarded as a connected part of State territory. But this case is not comparable to the
creation of the artificial island of Sealand. A piece of State territory-which has been submerged by the
sea continues to be connected to a firm piece of State territory to which the piece of territory submerged
by the sea is to be regarded as belonging. In the case of the Duchy of Sealand, however, no proper part
of State territory is connected to the artificial island. Leisner is also incorrect when he takes the view that
wherever a specifically delineated part of the surface of the earth is firmly connected to a submerged
portion, the former is also to be regarded as a part of State territory (cf. Leisner, Rechtsgutachten ber die
Vlkerrechtliche Situation der Duchy of Sealand, p. 4).
Leisners conclusion, that submerged surface areas become part of territory, fails to take into
consideration that the point at issue is not whether the surface of the sea-bed becomes part of the territory
but rather whether the platform itself becomes part of the territory.
Leisner is also not convincing when he argues that what is decisive is not scientific and geographical
terminology but rather the legal definition of the essential attributes of State territory. He considers that his
view that the artificial island of Sealand does satisfy the criteria for designation as State territory is
supported by Dahm, who defines State territory as a particular organized surface area (Dahm,
Vlkerrecht, Vol. 1, 1958, p. 76). This view is in fact contradicted by Dahm himself who states at another
point that any State territory must primarily be land territory (Dahm, loc. cit. p. 617).
Finally Leisners contention that, under international law, territory can be artificially extracted from
the sea, does not provide a basis for the designation of the so-called Duchy of Sealand as State territory.
The formation of land by the erection of dykes or dams and similar structures on the sea-shore or in
coastal waters is not comparable to the construction of artificial islands such as Sealand. The positioning
[*687] of dykes results in the enlargement of existing State territory by the acquisition of a new piece of
the surface of the earth directly adjacent to existing State territory, which assumes the same status as that
territory. By contrast, the artificial island of Sealand did not involve the creation of any new piece of
the earths surface.
In addition to the lack of State territory, the so-called Duchy also lacks a State people within the
meaning of international law. At present the Duchy has 106 citizens. Leisner is correct in his view
that the size of a people is irrelevant to the question of whether or not it constitutes a State (Leisner, loc.
cit., p. 9; Rafell, Die Rechtsstellung der Vatikanstadt, 1961, p. 35). Nevertheless, in the case of the
Duchy of Sealand it cannot be accepted that there is a people within the meaning of international law
since the life of a community is lacking.
The State, as an amalgamation of many individuals, complements the family, which consists of only
a few members, and has the duty to promote community life. This duty does not merely consist of the
promotion of a loose association aimed at the furtherance of common hobbies and interests. Rather it must
be aimed at the maintenance of an essentially permanent form of communal life in the sense of sharing a
common destiny (Herzog, Allgemeine Staatslehre, 1971, p. 43; Doehring, Straatsrecht [sic] der
Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1976, p. 84; Krings/Baumgartner/Wild, Handbuch Philosophischer
Grundbegriffe, Vol. 5, p. 1414; Brugger, Fhilosophisches Wrterbuch, 14th edn., 1976, entry under
The so-called nationals of the Duchy of Sealand do not satisfy these criteria for community life.
Apart from the 30 to 40 persons permanently living on the platform, who are responsible for its defence
and the maintenance of its installations, the presence of the other so-called nationals is limited to
occasional visits. The territorial extent of the Duchy of merely 1300 square metres does not satisfy the
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requirements for the permanent residence of all its nationals. Even if the plans of Roy of Sealand to
extend the size of the platform to approximately 13,000 square metres were to come to fruition, there
would still not be suitable living space for all nationals. The life of the State is not limited to the
provision of casinos and places of entertainment. Rather a State community must play a more decisive
role in serving the other vital human needs of people from their birth to their death. These needs include
education and professional training, assistance in all the eventualities of life and the provision of
subsistence allowances where necessary. The so-called Duchy of Sealand fails to satisfy any of these
Regardless of the material prerequisites which an entity must have in order to constitute a people
under international law, the nationals of the Duchy themselves fail to satisfy an essential condition for
their classification as a people. These nationals have [*688] not acquired their nationality in order to
live with one another and handle all aspects of their lives on a collective basis, but on the contrary they
continue to pursue their individual interests outside the Duchy. The common purpose of their
association is limited to a small part of their lives, namely their commercial and tax affairs. This degree of
common interest cannot be regarded as sufficient for the recognition of a people within the meaning of
international law.
[Reports: DVBl. 1978, p. 510; Fontes luris Gentium, Series A, Sectio II, Tomus 8, 1976-80, p. 312
(in German).]

NOTE. This decision may be compared with judgments of the courts of Italy (71 I.L.R. 258) and the
United States (51 I.L.R. 225) dealing with the legal status of artificial islands.

Case No. 9 K 2565/77.
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